Hanover | Services: Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic
A Day Like No Other
August 14, 2014
The summer day started like any other for Abby Holman. The then 11-year-old went to camp near her Hanover County home, but around 11 a.m. while playing tag, Abby tripped on a log, flipped in the air and landed on her head. Not wanting to get tagged, Abby got up, and after touching “home,” ran toward her friends on the playground where she ran into a pole and hit her head again.
Unaware of her daughter’s accident, Helen Gordon didn’t arrive at camp until the usual 6 p.m. pick up time where she found Abby “curled up on a picnic table, crying and complaining that light and noise hurt her head.” Helen took Abby, who was also dizzy and nauseous, to a local emergency center, where Abby was diagnosed with a concussion and advised to limit all physical activity.
Abby’s head pain had intensified, she couldn’t walk in a straight line, and her pediatrician noticed her eyes weren’t reacting to movement correctly. She also couldn’t ride in a car without getting a severe headache. Abby was told to avoid reading, television and all electronics.
Because Abby’s symptoms weren’t improving, she was referred to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s (CHoR) Concussion/Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Clinic where she was evaluated by a team of specialists and given a series of cognitive tests that showed frontal lobe damage to her brain. Her diagnosis: a mild to moderate TBI. Helen worked with Abby’s doctors and teachers at Liberty Middle School to allow Abby to start the school year with her friends. Abby continued singing in her church choir and swimming but had a hard time reading the music and could no longer remember familiar hymns.
Abby also began visiting CHoR’s West End Therapy Center two or three times a week to improve her balance and eye strength and her ability to focus (she saw double until December). Abby, who enjoyed throwing footballs, softballs and basketballs, cheerleading and riding horses before her accident, said she appreciated the chance to be active again.
Helen worked with Abby’s therapists and teachers to develop a plan to help Abby at school by limiting the number of tests each day, getting copies of notes, taking breaks as needed and using the elevator. Abby also celebrated her 12th birthday.
Abby began cognitive therapy to learn how to break down multi-step processes, stay organized and adjust to the demands of life and school.
Abby finished regular therapy sessions but continued to visit CHoR for quarterly check ups at the TBI clinic. “I was sad to leave therapy but glad I was getting back to normal,” she recalled.
Abby began working with a psychiatrist once a month to coordinate her medications and a psychologist twice a month to manage the cognitive and emotional changes resulting from her brain injury.
Abby was able to return to physical education class at school with restrictions. She also began sleeping through the night, which she had not done since before her accident.
Throughout her recovery, Abby served on her church’s worship committee and worked to get youth more involved in church activities. Piggybacking on this spring’s Instagram Egg Crack Challenge, Abby challenged her church’s minister, whose daughter was treated for cancer at CHoR, to crack an egg over his head, and Abby’s Egg Challenge fundraiser, where Abby collected donations for the chance to crack eggs over volunteers’ heads, was born. At the end of the event, 162 eggs were broken, including 41 on Helen, and $2,269 was collected for CHoR’s TBI clinic. Abby also received support from members of the Western Hanover Relay for Life committee, where she has volunteered with her mom since she was three years old. “I wanted to give back to Children’s Hospital for all they’ve done for me,” Abby said.
Abby still tires easily and hasn’t recovered her long-term memory, but she no longer gets dizzy, can go a week without a headache and is able to climb stairs unassisted. “I can finally walk and run a straight line and do all the things I used to do,” she said. She finished the school year with A’s and B’s on her report card but still has restrictions as her brain continues to heal.